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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

I don't read The Economist very often, but they have a very interesting article on the prevalence of English in popular songs on Spotify: What Spotify data show about the decline of English. It is fairly heavy with statistics, but here are some take-aways:

Three broad clusters emerged: a contingent in which English is dominant; a Spanish-language ecosystem; and a third group that mostly enjoys local songs in various tongues. Across all, one trend emerged: the hegemony of English is in decline. 

The drop over the past five years is mostly concentrated outside the English sphere. Within the Spanish cluster, English quickly lost ground—from 25% of hits to 14%—as native artists like Bad Bunny and Rauw Alejandro became internationally ascendant. Among the local-language cluster, in countries with strong, indigenous music cultures—like Brazil, France and Japan—English declined even more precipitously, dropping from 52% of hit songs to just 30%. Only in the English cluster did the language remain unfazed, dropping only slightly from 92% to 90%.

What would be more interesting, I think, would be to look at how deeply English/American and European musical structures dominate the world. In other words, is the global reach of platforms like Spotify causing popular songs worldwide to resemble more and more those of the US and the UK?

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Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen offers up a Simple Theory of Culture. The link goes to the ample comments, for the post itself, just scroll up.

Popular music was highly emotionally charged because so much of it was connected to ideas you really cared about.

Of course, by attaching an idea to a song you often ensured the idea wasn’t going to be really subtle, at least not along the standard intellectual dimensions.  But it might be correct nonetheless.

Today you can debate ideas directly on social media, without the intermediation of music.  Ideas become less simple and more baroque, while music loses its cultural centrality and becomes more boring.

Lots of interesting thoughts in the comments as well.

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Are we starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel: DENMARK, DISMISSING COVID, OPENS UP FOR MUSIC MENTORING

As of this week, the Danes have abolished all Covid restrictions – no facemasks, no crowd limits, no tests.

Two international music schemes have immediately been announced.

Fabio Luisi at the Malko Conducting Competition in Copenhagen has put out a call for musicians aged 18 to 25 to come and get mentored at his Academy.

And Nikolaj Znaider at the Nielsen Competition in Odense (pictured) has launched Espansiva Academy – ‘a new mentoring programme, specifically designed to offer industry insight through talks, workshops and one-to-one personal conversations for the contestants at appropriate moments during the 11 days of the Competition.’

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Th New York Times has a feature on a conductor who resists the usual career pressures: A Conductor in Demand, and in Control.

“At the moment, I will be much more content to be a simple freelancer,” Gražinytė-Tyla, 35, said in a recent interview at the Bavarian State Opera here, where she was preparing a new production of Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.”

It’s an unusual statement coming from a young conductor in demand, especially one whose current appointment — as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Britain — concludes this spring. Even more unusual since Gražinytė-Tyla, along with the likes of Susanna Mälkki, is often mentioned as a leading contender to fill vacancies on the horizon at top American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.

Read the whole thing for an insight into a conductor that is determined to pursue her own artistic path.

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Now I understand why I am single: Music taste has become the latest weapon in our online dating war

...on dating apps, music taste has become one of the primary ways of signalling one’s suitability as a mate – and how, by reducing people to profiles of their likes and dislikes, this taste has been weaponised. 

If we read too much into music taste, it’s probably because it is one of only a handful of data points we’re given to assess potential romantic compatibility. In the past, “Beatles or Stones?” and “Oasis v Blur” were icebreakers that you’d quickly move past if you fancied each other enough; on dating apps, they are the precursor to a conversation occurring at all. 

OkCupid’s survey found that one in three singles believe musical preference to be a good indicator of intelligence.

Ok, new hope for lovers of Anton Webern?

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Taylor Swift v Damon Albarn: why the idea of the lone songwriter is outdated

Damon Albarn, the lead singer of Blur and Gorillaz, has recently been criticised for his “outdated” views of modern songwriting. In an interview with the LA Times, Albarn explained that US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift’s “co-writing” approach was at odds with his “traditionalist” view of writing songs. He went on to say that co-writing “doesn’t count” as songwriting.

Hmm, I seem to recall that the team of Lennon and McCartney were pretty good songwriters...

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Let's have a look at another review in the Journal of the American Musicological Society. This is from a review of Class, Control, and Classical Music, by Anna Bull by Juliet Hess.

In Class, Control, and Classical Music, Anna Bull poses a key question to classical music stakeholders: “how are musical institutions, practices, and aesthetics shaped by wider conditions of economic inequality, and in what ways might music enable and entrench such inequalities or work against them?” (p. 1) Through ethnography and careful historical analysis, she interrogates youth classical music programs and explores how they participate in class reproduction, the formation of middle-class selfhood, and classed boundary-drawing.

Well, of course the basic assumptions here are from Karl Marx and his analysis of society in terms of class and economics, but those assumptions go unquestioned. They might not be the best way to understand the role of music in society, but hey, what do I know? Another big influence is Pierre Bourdieu and I think I have talked about his views before. A quote from the book offers a look at the author's approach:

In order to address inequalities evident in classical music education and its cultural institutions, we need to disrupt the aesthetics of the music itself rather than continuing to produce perfect versions of the canonic repertoire. The boundary-drawing that I have described, which safeguards classical music’s cultural prestige, needs to be loosened, and the “treasures” guarded by it must be let out for us to play with. (p. 192)

This is a subtle approach, but it seems to me to simply valorize whatever progressive music educators choose to do, so it is part of the general wave of progressivism. This is a book about classical music education that has grave doubts about the very value of classical music education because it promotes inequality.

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Here is a lovely piece by Marc-Antoine Charpentier performed by Lea Desandre and Thomas Dunford:

Oddly, there are almost no clips of conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla on YouTube. Apart from a whole Mozart opera and a bunch of interview and trailer clips all I could find was this short Bach movement which hardly requires a conductor.

Here is the first movement of the Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 in B major played by the Merz Trio. I put this up because I just heard them play this piece in a concert last night along with trios by Haydn and Fauré. Yes, chamber music is back!

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